Review: Evil Dead Rise

Director:  Lee Cronin

Stars:  Lily Sullivan, Alyssa Sutherland, Morgan Davies

Motherhood is rendered a bloody, bodily feud in the latest resurgence of the Evil Dead franchise, the fifth instalment and first since Fede Álverez took a chainsaw to the series’ comedic bent when he resurrected it back in 2013. Irish filmmaker Lee Cronin looks here to create a balancing act between Álverez’s bleak nihilism and originator Sam Raimi’s old and goofy excess. For the most part he succeeds, though the effectiveness of his work may have been scuppered to some degree by the over-enthusiastic marketing for the picture.

To begin with things seem in-keeping with the franchise. Woodsy setting, secluded cabin. The aesthetic markers are all there. But this prelude is a deliberate mislead of sorts. Cronin zips us back in time a day and switches up to rainy downtown LA, and a condemned apartment high rise with only a scant few occupants remaining. Here we meet mother-of-three Ellie (Alyssa Sutherland), struggling to find new accommodation before the building is demolished, contending with the wills of her young; proto-activist Bridget (Gabrielle Echols), wannabe DJ Danny (Morgan Davies) and movie-cute little’un Kassie (Nell Fisher).

A visit from her roadie sister Beth (Lily Sullivan) coincides with an earthquake that knocks out power, cell phone service (nice touch) and most of the stairwell. Effectively trapped in the building overnight, things already seem tense even before Danny unearths something inhuman from a freshly hewn crack in the floor of the complex’s concrete parking garage.

By sheer happenstance the first victim of the newly unleashed evil is Ellie, and her possession leads to a taut pressure-cooker exercise in matriarchal terror. It seems no coincidence that her reveal to the family takes place in the kitchen and in the context of domesticity – witness the creation of the worst omelette you’ve ever seen in your life – as Evil Dead Rise takes traditional notions of motherhood and pulls them out at the root. Much as all parents are intrinsically connected to their children, there’s a deep nest of resentment buried in that relationship, too, that is among the most taboo concepts in society. Cronin externalises what can never be spoken, drawing battle lines between generations.

There are a scant smattering of extraneous male supporting characters, but chiefly our focus is with the family and most keenly the interconnectivity of the women (is it a coincidence that the father figure is pointedly absent?). The terrors and strains of womanhood are a persistent focus. While the family kitchen has, over time, become a less gender-coded space, it is frequently the apparatus of this room that seeds the most explicit violence. The film’s wince-inducing cheese-grater moment has already become part of its viral marketing, though I’d argue that a wine glass is put to even more squirm-worthy use. Elsewhere fertility becomes a key thread that the movie taps into, along with the bloody horrors of menstruation (reconfigured here in a nightmarish sequence of further possession).

Cronin goes at all of this like someone who’s been given the keys to the kingdom. An evident fan of the series, Evil Dead Rise is a marked gearshift from his previous creeper The Hole in the Ground. He apes many of the series’ signature cues, from those fast floating POV shots to the rapid fire rhythms of the edit. Evil Dead Rise maintains a fast pace bordering on the incoherent, especially when it comes to the amped up sound design that keeps coming at you like a battering ram. The intention is both to entertain and overwhelm.

Unfortunately, huge swathes of the film’s mid-section made it into the film’s well-promoted trailer(s), lessening the impact of sequences already shorn of any breathing space. As such, while fun, a lot of the film’s moves already feel overfamiliar. Resurrecting a franchise like this is a tricky thing, as there’s a lineage that Cronin is ultimately beholden to as well. Evil Dead Rise is stuffed with Easter eggs for the fans, but layering this on risks coming up short on your own originality. One of the movie’s best sequences is something we haven’t seen before; a corridor showdown viewed from the restrictive vantage of a front door peephole. We only get a fraction of the story, but Cronin allows us to fill in the grisly blanks from our own twisted imaginations.

Once Evil Dead Rise gets free of the material used to sell it, things become exponentially better. The third act is all killer, and much of it has been stored up as a surprise. Such is its effectiveness that I won’t dare spoil it further, suffice to say Cronin has the stones to try and outdo one of the most iconic scenes in all of horror cinema. Whether he manages it will be up for debate, but the attempt itself is brassy as hell. And while she initially seems somewhat unremarkable, Sullivan steps up to the plate come the end, turning Beth into a blood-soaked battle-hardened feminine warrior who has the physical temerity of Samara Weaving in Ready or Not and the emotional wherewithal of Ellen Ripley circa Aliens.

A 6/10 for two acts and an easy 8 at it’s exit, I’ve split the diff below. Evil Dead Rise is compact, chaotic, noisy and nasty. I can’t imagine we’ll have to wait another decade before further carnage ensues.

7 of 10

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